Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Think of the children...

     I’ll be perfectly frank and candid, separating young children from their parents does irreparable damage to their mental development and in many cases is a crime punishable by law in these United States. If these were American citizens in any foreign nation people here would be demanding our government let slip the dogs of war and unleash the unbridled hell that is our full and complete military might.

     Espousing the policy and actions of the current administration as they pertain to this matter by saying things like “it’s been the law since…” or proclaiming that citizens who commit felonies and have children are separated from them is utter nonsense. Pointing fingers at the opposing team/political party gets us nowhere.

     Using young, innocent children whose parents are striving for a better life is reprehensible and downright deplorable. The very fact that ANY American citizen, ANY parent, ANY Christian, ANY human being with an iota of compassion and empathy thinks this is ok is so far removed from what God and Jesus have taught. I cannot quote you scripture to support that statement but, if you feel you need to have hard evidence to support that claim I’d reply that you don’t have he foggiest idea what you’re talking about and I have neither the time, nor the inclination to entertain such foolishness.

     The last time ANY American citizen’s “freedom” was threatened was during WWII. Those who defended our freedom during that time are the last men and women who, in my humble opinion, earned the rights bestowed by the U.S. Constitution. The rest of us were fortunate enough to have been born into those rights and freedoms, they weren’t earned, they were our birthright.
Those who were born into the strife and violence that exists today in many other parts of the world, including Central and South America, were not so fortunate. Not by a very, very long shot. So when people try to use things like scripture to prop up their abhorrent policies and behavior I immediately get angry. Real angry.

     I will not stand for this, I will not sit or lie down for this. This policy must stop, immediately. I implore you to take swift and immediate action, to contact those who represent you in our government and make your thoughts on this known, and do not let up until this ceases.
Now is the time for all good citizens, for every person proclaiming Christ as their savior to toe the line and do your civic duty, to make your voice heard, to be counted on the right side of history.

     Mark my words, we as a nation will be judged by how we treat these children, and I’ve no doubt we will be judged on that day when Christ returns.

     What side of history will you be on?

Friday, June 8, 2018

See me, hear me, nothing more.

     Yesterday, in the wake of Kate Spade’s, suicide with everyone talking about it, I noticed some things. First, a DJ on Sirius XM was talking about it and addressed those who are suffering from depression. He said this- “First, get help.” Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? But it’s not WHAT he said, but HOW he said it. It was the tone of voice he took, he said “get help” as if those who are depressed are too stupid to think of that. 

     I heard that right before I visited an acquaintance I hadn't seen in quite a while. He asked where I'd been and I matter of factly said "I've been depressed."  I don't know if he thought it was a joke, but clearly he didn't "get it". He flippantly said, “What do you have to be depressed about?” as if to imply that I had so much going for me that  I shouldn't be depressed. I've heard of children asking their parents why Kate Spade committed suicide, she had millions of dollars, what did she have to be depressed about? 

     Here's the thing, depression is a monster. No matter how good your life looks on the outside, depression eats you up from the inside. There are people in your life right now who are hiding the fact they are suffering, because in our society depression is seen as a weakness, not an illness. Because it's seen as a weakness, because it's so misunderstood, those suffering from it are very hesitant to speak up about it. They feel judged, they feel as though people see them as lazy, as trying to get out of work or just being an adult. Be honest, how many of you have thought those things?

     Tell someone you have cancer and they'll ask about your tumor, but mine didn't come with tumors. They'll want to know when the surgery is, mine wasn't treated with surgery, not directly at least. Someone says they're hurting from depression and people ask where it hurts, they only understand physical pain. Someone says they're depressed and people ask why. They don't "get it".

     Later, while watching some news stories about Kate's suicide, the discussion of one news snippet immediately focused on Kate's family, talking about how much they must be suffering now. My reaction to that was "How much was KATE SUFFERING before her suicide that led her to take such a drastic course of action???" That's as close to what is known as victim shaming as I have ever heard. I get it, her family is now hurting, grieving, perhaps blaming themselves for not seeing the signs, but here's the thing- trying to switch the focus to the living diminishes the suffering of the one suffering from depression. It dismisses it outright, and you simply cannot guilt people who are depressed into not taking their lives because it'll hurt others. You simply can't...

     Here's the rub, those who are suffering from depression are already hurting and those around them can't see it. Often they'll reach out and be dismissed by the ones they are seeking help from. "What do you have to be depressed about?" "Just choose to be happy." "You gotta eliminate the assholes from your life." "Why can't you be more positive?" Those are all things I have heard when I have brought up the subject. "Get help..."? That's the clarion call of those with depression reaching out, and you've dismissed it. Remember that scene from A Few Good Men? Lt. Kaffee is asking Col. Jessup questions, trying to get to the truth- 

Col. Jessup: You want answers?
Lt. Kaffee: I think I'm entitled!
Col. Jessup: You want answers?!?
Lt. Kaffee: I WANT THE TRUTH!!

     That's how most of the one on one conversations about depression (and mental health in general) go, when they're boiled down. A person wants to know why  their friend is suffering, why they are suffering, how it is that they can't see just how easy it is to "be happy". But when faced with the truth, they can't handle it. People shy away from these conversations, they try to simplify it, because they just don't "get it".

     I wish I could give you a list of ways which would help you fix them, I know that's what you are ultimately looking for, deep down that's what we're all looking for. But it doesn't work that way. But don't despair, I will let you in on a little secret, I'll give you a tip, the one thing that you can do the next time someone tells you they're depressed, or the next time someone wants to talk about some really heavy stuff. What they want, what they NEED, more than anything is for you to listen. Just, listen... It's that simple. Listen. Don't try to fix their problem, you can't. Don't try to talk them out of it, you can't. They seriously just need you to listen. Recognize them and their suffering. Acknowledge them and their suffering. 

     See them. Hear them. Acknowledge them. Sit with them. Be with them. That's what they want and need, that's what I want and need. No judgement, no suggestions, no fixing, no gossiping about it later to others. 

     Do that and you'll learn more about depression than you could any other way. Do that and your relationship with that person will grow in depth, breadth, width, and in ways you never could've imagined. Do that and you may just save a life. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

At least I'll die happy...

     That's what an acquaintance said to me during a discussion of the foods we eat and which are bad or good for us. We happened to be taking about a certain hugely popular coffee company at the time. I know how much people (myself included) are absolutely in love with their drinks, even though we KNOW how bad they are for our bodies. I have been mulling that phrase over and over in my head for months now, and I wish I could go back to that discussion and offer some insight into "dying happy".

     Here's the thing, when it comes to any of a number of diseases (cancer chief among them and the one which I have any modicum of experience with) Death does not come to the sufferer in a happy way. Sure, imbibing those sugary, caffeinated drinks now can give one a sense of euphoria I suppose, but it is short lived. When done so over a period of time does that momentary sense of satisfaction or happiness really equal the years one's life would be shortened? So, you have subtracted from the number of years you'll be alive, now think about your manner of death. I have been in cancer wards, I have seen cancer patients of all types, many with innumerable additional ailments, many who died as a result of their diseases. I can assure you they did not die happy. 

     When it comes to the foods we eat,  I have feasted upon the worst of the worst and been completely and wholly content in doing so, not caring or even considering what the consequences might be down the road. Then came a type of cancer for which not one doctor has even offered a likely cause, one for which the only POTENTIAL cure, if it didn't kill me (and it damn near did), was a heavy dose of chemotherapy drugs and then rebuilding my bone marrow with that of a complete stranger. I assure you, THAT got me thinking about the food I ate like a 2x4 to the face!

     I know what you're thinking, "Here comes another food activist rant..." but I'm not going to go there. I just want for you to think about the foods you are putting into your body and what effects they might be having. You only get one body and only a select few get to replace parts that wear out or are damaged beyond repair due to abuse. I'm not going to spout off why GMOs and processed foods are bad for you. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you can do your own research on those matters. But... just think about WHAT you are eating. We all know what foods and drinks are "healthy" and which are junk, much the same as we know that smoking is bad for us. So what would it take for you to quit sodas, fast food, processed frozen dinners, and $5 a cup fancy coffee? Would it take you getting cancer, diabetes, or heart disease? Would it take you sitting on the exam table in a doctor's office in a paper gown while the doctor tries to tell you in the politest terms possible that you only have a year to live?

     What if I told you that you will not, as many proclaim, die happy, but that you will die a slow, painful, horrible death? That even though you are the one "suffering" from the disease and it's your life nearing its end, all of your friends and family members will suffer for years to come if/when you die? Would eating better, smarter, healthier sound more appealing to you then? Would it be easy to change? No. But I can assure you it will be easier by far than things like bone marrow biopsies, chemotherapy, watching your hair fall out, and dying slowly. 

     We all make choices, we all prioritize things in our lives from the food we eat to the time we have to eat dinner. Choose wisely friends, your life depends on it...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In defense of heroes...

     Many have called me a hero for how I've handled my fight with cancer, and I've never been even partially comfortable with it. That said, the following article really pissed me off, and I'm not afraid to step on the soapbox and tell the world why. I first came across this article when it was linked in a comment regarding a member of the Navy (I'm guessing a corpsman serving as a medic attached to a Marine unit) serving in Afghanistan. He posted a lengthy status update on why his wife was his hero, what he deemed a true hero. The person who shared this had little to say but seemed to think this article would speak in his stead. I very much dislike people who don't have the stones to stand up in a public forum and speak their mind but rather bandy about someone else's words to do the dirty work for them. What follows is the article in question along with my thoughts inserted in where I felt appropriate. 

You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy

Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

     I beg to differ, what makes serious conversations nearly impossible is our own steadfastness in our convictions that our individual way of thinking is THE only way of thinking and we refuse to listen to any other way of thinking. In my opinion nationalism isn’t a bad thing, as to how the author arrived at all those other “-isms” is beyond me. If you ask me anyone who volunteers to place themselves in harms way to protect others is the very definition of what a hero is, I could care less what any dictionary says.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

     Perhaps this author should stop watching the mainstream, 24-7 all-news, all-day in-your-face diatribe and search out some of the good stories out there. Sure, you’ll have to look harder than just sitting on your duff in front of the jumbotron tv in your living room but there are stories out there that showcase what the good police officers and soldiers are doing. In this day and age “shock value” is what gets people riled up and keeps them glued to the tv for the latest update on the current tragedy. Exhibit A- this article… 

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.
Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.

     I’ll cut to the chase here, war is hell and it does unspeakable things to men and now, women as well. Not to sound chauvinistic here but women demanded to be allowed into the military and then went further demanding equal treatment and access to the same jobs that men did. I’m not saying they are in any way asking for rape, far from it, but the cold hard truth is that war is messy and we are, every time we send our military members into a combat zone, asking them to kill another human being. I won’t say women are incapable of dealing with that, hell many men aren’t! What I’m saying is this, we live in a society where we are inundated daily via the media of many of these same unspeakable acts committed by civilians and in essence, we’ve become desensitized to it. We also live in a society where young men and women spend countless hours playing video games depicting these same unspeakable horrors (death and gore) and we see it in out “entertainment”. So how is it really that shocking that our military are acting in the same way when they pass the time watching YouTube videos of combat footage? Having served in the military I can assure you there are far more good servicemen and women than there are bad and in many cases we have a tendency to take care of things in house, preferring that the victim be kept anonymous but to a few who act on their behalf. 

It is undeniable that there are police officers who heroically uphold their motto and mission to “serve and protect,” just as it is indisputable that there are members of the military who valiantly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Reviewing the research proving cruelty and mendacity within law enforcement and the military, and reading the stories of trauma and tragedy caused by officers and soldiers, does not mean that no cop or troop qualifies as a hero, but it certainly means that many of them are not heroes.

     So by that statement we should treat them all as if they never do anything heroic so that we never give accolades to the few who are undeserving of the moniker “hero”? Hogwash! I’m sure you’ve all heard or seen it written that a US Serviceman is a man/woman who writes a check to their country up to and including their life. Here is the Oath of Enlistment that every soldier, airman, sailor, marine and coast guardsman swears not only upon enlisting but each time they reenlist: "I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the
Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”  Here’s something you might find interesting, Those who swear to support and defend the Constitution are no longer covered by it. They now are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Isn’t THAT ironic? 

Acknowledging the spread of sadism across the ranks of military also does not mean that the U.S. government should neglect veterans, as they often do, by cutting their healthcare options, delaying or denying treatment, and reducing psychiatric services. On the contrary, if American politicians and pundits genuinely believed that American military members are “heroes,” they would not settle for sloganeering, and garish tributes. They would insist that veterans receive the best healthcare possible. Improving and universalizing high quality healthcare for all Americans, including veterans, is a much better and truer way to honor the risks soldiers and Marines accept on orders than unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.

     I agree with everything here except that last statement. I don’t know where the author gets the notion that there is anything treasonous about speaking out, he is certainly speaking out… In addition to agreeing with the above statements I’d like to add a few words. First, never forget that politicians by and large only ever think of themselves and what personal gain or detriment may come of their decisions or votes on any particular bill. How often do they tack on frivolous riders to bills just because they know that otherwise they’d never pass or to kill a bill they don't like? Those politicians who are brave enough to stand on principals for what is right and good don’t seem to have very long careers now do they? As for the treatment veterans get, once again I’m sorry to burst the author’s bubble of bravado but he’s only hearing or reading about the worst case scenarios. There are a number of extremely amazing facilities out there, most of the ones I’ve been to in fact fall into this category. Yes, there are some really bad examples as well but as we have seen by delving deeper into the facts they are NOT indicative of the system as a whole. They are/were facilities run by people who had no business assuming leadership positions. As to universal healthcare I can honestly say, after visiting half a dozen VA hospitals and clinics and nearly as many civilian hospitals I can only agree there. Some of the hospitals I have gone to, because they were closer than the VA hospital, I will never set foot in again. I feel as though my life was in far greater peril than had I chanced the hour longer drive to the VA facility. In the future I’ll take my chances with the longer drive, at least when I get there they will be able to pull up my records, in their entirety, in seconds and can contact all the necessary doctors right away. My first time in a civilian hospital I was there over 24 hours before I even SAW a doctor and he couldn’t tell me anything. My first time at a VA hospital I saw several of my doctors and knew within minutes of arriving what the plan was to take care of me. The only problem with “Universal Healthcare” is that it would require more tax money from people who already feel that they are being “taxed to death” out of some sense of entitlement. God forbid anyone should tell them what to do, I mean we’re all FREE!

One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street. Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment. The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization – “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”

     So… Saddam Hussein was an upstanding leader and didn’t need removed? He was totally justified in his invasion of Kuwait? It was his prerogative to gas his own citizens? (more to follow after the next few lines…)

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II

     I’ll jump back in here… Saying that all wars are fought for freedoms is a bit naive. Afghanistan was started to hunt down terrorists that attacked us on American soil, just in case you forgot about 9-11. I don’t know exactly why we went to Iraq but take it from this Airman who served during the first Gulf War, no one on active duty wanted to leave that country without finishing what we started! Even those of us stateside were extremely upset that we didn’t remove Saddam from power. Here's the thing about the United States Serviceman/woman, when an order is given, we execute it to the best of our ability. Now, obviously if my superior told me to jump on a grenade to save himself I'm not obliged to do so, there are exceptions. Now, given the history of world wars, since you brought that up, let’s just let our imaginations wander for a moment… Is it entirely outside the realm of possibility that Saddam could have taken Kuwait and all it’s riches and then a year or two later another small country, and then another and another? Sound eerily familiar? Like, oh… Germany under the Nazis! Now ask yourself what might have happened had some country had the stones to tell Hitler NO! and beat him back to within Germany’s borders and removed him from power at the first sign of invasion. Will Putin stop with his small conquest or is he just biding his time waiting for that whole thing to blow over before pushing just a bit further? The world has become, scratch that- the world has ever been a cruel hard place to scratch out an existence. Just because we’ve had it good for a while doesn’t mean that’s how it has been or how it will be. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.

     Good sir, far more men and women have fought for, and died for, the right to free speech than any litigator. I assure you of that. Oh, and your welcome...

Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars.

     EXCUSE ME?!? Ask those with a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross or Silver Star or a Purple Heart if those who stand in protest are on the same playing field… ALL wars have heroes, whether or not the cause of war was justified in your eyes. NEVER forget that!

Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.

     Well if that isn’t just about the most backward way of thinking I’ve ever heard or read… Allow me to clear something up here bub, every member of the armed services knows what they are getting themselves into. Sure recruiters aren't exactly truthful but by the time you get through BMT (Basic Military Training) you have learned, each and every service member, how to fire an assault rifle. If it comes to it even the laziest desk jockey can be called to fight. Clearly this author is a pacifist and would simply “talk” his way out of any conflict, though I doubt he would be successful with words like that.  Instead I think he would only entice some foreign bully dictator to invade us all the sooner! Look, you call a hero a hero and you call a rapist a rapist and you call a sadist a sadist. I would hope any published author would know the definitions of those words before he began blathering on about what we should call these people. Furthermore, the ONLY thing that will bring about honest and critical conversations is a group of honest individuals who CAN be, but need not ALWAYS be, critical. People who can listen with an open mind to the opinions of others and concede when their opinion is not the popular opinion.

The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.

     Again, I strongly disagree… Just because we hold them up as heroes does not mean they are beyond reproach. If ANYTHING it means that we hold them to a higher standard and place them under closer scrutiny. Additionally I’ll reiterate my previous point, there are bad cops and there are good cops. Show me some examples of good cops. It’s hard to and I’ll tell you why- they don’t go above and beyond the call of duty for glory or to have the spotlight shone on them. They don't do good things, like helping a single mother with three kids get her car to a gas station, put fuel in her tank and but her groceries because they’re looking for accolades, they do it because they are good hearted individuals, just like a good many civilians are. For what it’s worth many police officers are former military and the military, last I knew, encouraged helping out those in need… 

An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

     “Foolish acts of aggression…” Ok, I’ll grant you that we have engaged in some conflicts that we probably didn’t have any business being in. But let’s look at it this way- a tool unused becomes dull and tarnished. That is to say that if generations of soldiers “practice” war but never actually engage in it, eventually they won’t be an effective deterrent or defense. While I’m bringing up deterrence let’s not forget that each time we go poking our nose into other people’s fights we’re generally on the side of “good” fighting ruthless dictators and the like. How do you think the rest of the world sees that? Sure, those who have the ability to defend themselves may balk at it, but to some would be dictator it likely will give him cause to rethink that coup he has been planning. I can recall a conflict in some West African country on the coast where people were being grossly mistreated and the government had fallen to shambles. We simply parked a carrier fleet off the coast within sight but not in their territorial waters and like blowing out a candle everything suddenly got quiet and things were worked out. That is because people the world over know that our “war machine” is deadly and should we decide to use it, it won’t end well for someone… THAT is DETERRENCE! 

Given the dubious and dangerous nature of American foreign policy, and the neglect and abuse veterans often suffer when returning home wounded or traumatized, Americans, especially those who oppose war, should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military. Part of the campaign against enlistment requires removing the glory of the “hero” label from those who do enlist.

     Ok, stop right there… I'll concede that returning war veterans from Vietnam weren't treated fairly, but is that their fault, or the fault of anti-war protestors who very wrongly blamed the tool for what the operator did. Why do you think Americans are so quick to stand up and applaud returning soldiers now? Because we learned from our mistakes. Let me also put something else into perspective for you. Additionally there are approximately 42 million American veterans and they were ALL trained how to use assault weapons. Granted not all are capable of hardcore combat but still, that's a sizable number of folks no one wants pissed off at them. I don't know how it is that you came to the conclusion that they've been neglected or abused... Current military enlistment of both active and reserve troops is around 2.3 million with less than a million being reserves. Let’s say you “discourage” young men and women from enlisting, what then are they to do to earn a living? How are they to acquire the skills that can only be acquired through military enlistment? Military life, even that of non-combatants, gives an individual a sense of camaraderie that won’t ever be found on a sports team or in a Union working on a production line. Logistics such as that aside, what then happens when we have to enter a conflict and we have no troops trained and ready? Would you have us sitting by idly twiddling our thumbs whilst people such as you try to talk down some aggressor like Putin? I’ll take my chances on the giving end go an assault rifle thanks...

Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of divinity studies at Duke whom Time called “America’s best theologian,” has suggested that, given the radical pacifism of Jesus Christ, American churches should do all they can to discourage its young congregants from joining the military. Haurwas’ brand of intellectual courage is necessary, even among non-Christians, to combat the hysterical sycophancy toward the military in a culture where even saluting a Marine, while holding a coffee cup, is tantamount to terrorism.

     Time called this guy America’s Best Theologian eh? Well good for Time… I didn’t vote for him. You might do well to read through the bible a bit and see just how many times God sent people into war. You might also try to convince the muslim extremists, the Iranians and the North Koreans that they should likewise be pacifistic like Jesus. Go ahead, we’ll wait… Oh, and good luck! You’re sure as hell going to need it!

The men and women who do enlist deserve better than to die in the dirt and come home in a bag, or spend their lives in wheelchairs, and their parents should not have to drown in tears and suffer the heartbreak of burying their children. The catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military.

     You’re right, they shouldn’t have to endure those things. But the cold hard truth is that the world will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t meet it head on. Millions of Jews didn’t deserve to die in the holocaust either, nor the countless other victims of countless ruthless actions against civilians who died and were dumped in mass graves, the children in Africa who saw their parents murdered and were kidnapped and forced to fight… I disagree 100% that the catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military and I would in fact be so bold as to counter that those same catastrophes become more numerous and more horrendous when there are fewer people trained to stand and defend both themselves and the ones they love. To defend freedom and liberty, to stand against tyranny and oppression… 

Calling all cops and troops heroes insults those who actually are heroic – the soldier who runs into the line of fire to protect his division, the police officer who works tirelessly to find a missing child

     Neither the soldier or the cop in the previous statement works alone, they are a part of something greater than themselves. What then of the soldier who stood up from his place of cover to provide the soldier covering suppressive fire? I guess to you he’s not a hero either? What of the countless police officers who also looked for that child, often in dangerous conditions? I guess because they weren’t THE ONE who found the kid they’re likewise not heroes… Who’s cheapening the word now?!?

by placing them alongside the cops who shoot unarmed teenagers who have their hands in the air, or the soldier who rapes his subordinate.

     That “unarmed teenager” didn’t in fact put his hands up, but as we now know from the forensic evidence attacked the officer while he was still in his patrol car. You bet your ass he’s a hero! That same “unarmed teenager didn’t surrender when he was caught stealing form a local convenience store but instead beat the clerk who tried to stop him. As for the soldier who rapes his subordinate, no act of heroism justifies or negates such heinous actions and if I had things my way he’s be dealt with like any Roman Centurion who committed a crime, by the very troops he led. That sends a message to the next soldier who is promoted to that position. Those actions will be met with swift and terrible justice. We could learn a lot from history...

It also degrades the collective understanding of heroism to the fantasies of high-budget, cheap-story action movies. The American conception of heroism seems inextricably linked to violence; not yet graduated from third-grade games of cops and robbers. Explosions and smoking guns might make for entertaining television, but they are not necessary, and more and more in modern society, not even helpful in determining what makes a hero.

     I won’t debate this, you can’t mix real life with fantasy, fiction with non-fiction. By this reckoning we should all be wearing hockey masks and bladed gloves and murdering countless scores of people, simply because we saw it in a movie.

A social worker who commits to the care and advocacy of adults with developmental disabilities – helping them find employment, group home placement and medical care, and just treating them with love and kindness – is a hero. A hospice worker in a poor neighborhood, providing precious comfort and consolation to someone dying on the ugly edges of American healthcare, is a hero. An inner-city teacher, working hard to give essential education and meaningful affirmation to children living in neighborhoods where bullets fly and families fall apart, is a hero.

     I’m going to have to disagree with this too. None of those people risked their lives in defense on another life. Sure, they all perhaps went above and beyond the call of duty and are deserving of recognition, but that doesn’t make them heroes. What you’re saying in that statement is the kind of thing that cheapens real heroism. Which side of this argument are you on here anyway? In the military there exists a number of medals and awards, letters of commendation and the like for people who go beyond what is expected of them. Their actions save money, make processes more efficient etc. but that by no stretch of the imagination makes them a hero.

Not all teachers, hospice workers or social workers are heroes, but emphasizing the heroism of those who do commit to their clients, patients and students with love and service would cause a shift of America’s fundamental values. It would place the spotlight on tender and selfless acts of solidarity and empathy for the poor. Calling all cops heroes too often leads to pathetic deference to authority, even when the results are fatal, and insisting all members of the military are heroes too often reinforces the American values of militarism and exceptionalism.

     I’ve already debunked the first part of this by pointing out that these people, based solely on job performance, aren’t in the least heroes. As to the last part, you try defying the authority of a policeman or woman and see how that works out. Our society has always been taught that when you’re in trouble find a policeman or dial 911. We are also taught that when you are stopped by the police you don’t get smart with your responses. If you know you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. Let’s be honest, what are the odds that you will run into one of the few corrupt cops? I was not aware that “militarism” was an American value? But exceptionalism? You bet your ass I think we’re exceptional! Where else in this world can a person like this author spout off such nonsense and not be thrown in jail or beaten for writing these things? Even the enlisted servicemen and women who protect his right to say such ridiculous things won’t harm him. Why? Because in this, as in many other things, we are exceptional... Additionally here's how we protect your "freedoms", by keeping politicians in check. I'm sure more than one federal politician has had designs of changing or abolishing parts or even the whole of the Constitution. So what stopped them? Oh right, our armed forces and veterans. You know, those good old folks who swore to support and defend it? Yeah, those folks...

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honoring of “heroes.” Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists. If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick. If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.

     You got me there, we could all do better in taking care of those who are poor, sick and oppressed. How about if you start by trying to write something helpful about those people here in America instead of trying to tear down and belittle our bona-fide real American Heroes. Write about the kids who don’t have decent clothes or adequate shelter or good, fresh food to eat. Write about the horrible things companies like Monsanto are doing to our food all in the name of profit. Try doing like the real heroes do and lead by example. For what it’s worth, you’re a pretty shitty example of how things ought to be done… 

David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Splice Today. For more information visit

     The preceding was an article written by David along with my responses interjected in a point by point manner. I thought this was the best, and easiest way for me to address this. As I’ve said, I have never been comfortable with the moniker of “hero” where as it concerns my battle with cancer. But if that is how people see me, I think they could certainly have a far worse opinion and in truth, it’s not something worth arguing. In my humble opinion real heroes never really do get comfortable being called that. It’s part of what makes them heroes. All i know is that one can not ever call oneself a hero. Much like a nickname it’s a title that is given by another and not oneself. 

     As to why I wrote this, I was genuinely offended by the words written by David. I get that some folks aren’t cut out for military life, they don’t have what it takes to pick up a firearm and defend someone else or they just don’t think it’s “right” to kill another person. I guess that’s fine but as far as I’m concerned I will always support our military 100% and if me or mine ever need defending, woe be it to the aggressor. That’s a game with no rules and a game which I have no intention of losing. I’m fully willing to be the sheepdog, even if the entire flock consists of people like David… 

     Molon labe! (Come and take them…)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Autumnal update?

Greetings all, 

     I know it has been some time since my last update but for a long time there wasn’t much to report. There was a lot of emotional roller coaster up/downs but once again the counselors have been summoned. There is some news to report though as I have transitioned away from my hematologist, Dr. Martin, to another hematologist at the VA. This is good news for the most part, though I must admit that it was a rather emotional transition. Dr. Martin has been there through all but the worst of it, constantly in communication, always asking about the kids, the dogs, enquiring about our latest dietary changes… In short, she has become family, so I’m sure it’s not difficult to understand why transitioning to a new doctor was difficult. That said, she personally picked the new hematologist I would be seeing and is still keeping an eye on my “case” and if he (my new doctor) has any questions he will contact Dr. Martin directly. I mentioned it was good news, mainly because it means that I no longer require such frequent monitoring, and after careful thought I realized that this also frees up some of her time for those patients who need more vigilant attention. Dr. Martin also made it possible for me to go to Stanford University Hospital to see a GVHD specialist in their BMT ward. In addition to working at the VA, Dr. Martin also works at Stanford as well as teaches there. (Honestly, I’d love to have half that woman’s energy!) So, in summary my condition continues to improve while the number of doctors I’m seeing continues to grow. What a long, strange trip it’s been…

     In other news, work continues at a snail's pace out in the woodshop, but the better I feel emotionally/mentally the more apt I am to get out there. Ironically, it’s now getting colder, so insulating the place and figuring out an economical way to heat it will be at the top of the project list. In the mean time, I have been scouring the interwebs and magazines, perusing antique stores and craft sales and taking copious notes on all the things I can make to try to sell. Any little bit of income would be a blessing. I’ve also started filming my builds and will be editing them for uploading to YouTube. I have found there are a number of people who do this to either supplement their income or it IS their income. Again, more note taking and practice. I don’t think the first one produced will be very pretty but I sure learned a lot in making it. Stay tuned, I’ll post another update when it goes “live”! Please be sure to tell all your friends, and do that “thumbs up” thing if you think the video is good. (You can be honest, I know the first one will suck) You can also subscribe to the channel I’ll create and you’ll be notified via email of new videos. 

     Work also continues on the boys' pickup as well. With the help of Papa Frank they have the front bumper straightened out enough to reinstall it, while work on the much worse rear bumper continues. There have been a few mechanical issues to work through and hopefully we are done with them, but if not, we will face them head on. In addition to getting the rear bumper sorted there are some rather pesky wiring issues to muddle through (aren’t there ALWAYS wiring issues with old cars?). The seat needs to be reupholstered and we need to do a bit of body work and install a new reverse light and then it should be roadworthy. I’ve been compiling photos and will likely post a separate update on that at a later time, hopefully when it’s done and ready to get back on the road.

     No other news to report as of today. Stay warm as Old Man Winter encroaches and if you’re one of the (un)lucky few who has to shovel snow remember not to let yourself work so hard that you sweat. Let’s all stay healthy out there in the Winter Wonderland this year.

     May you all have a blessed and healthy Thanksgiving and do try not to eat too much… (save some pie for me, eh?)

     Peace, T. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

How we meet death...

     We all know death is coming but some are far more acutely aware than others. Take my grandfather did instance, 86 years old and his health steadily declining, he had to know his time was dwindling fast. My friend Adam on the other hand, I'm sure saw a long and happy life charted out before him. Then in an instant he was gone. My own experience had me very much looking far out into the future. Then cancer came and death following fast on its heels. Though I knew not if my life would indeed be over soon, or when, it suddenly became an all too real possibility. 

     I wrote the above words late last night after waking from a dream about my late grandfather. As with most dreams, we never really get to see them through to the end. I wasn’t there when my grandfather passed, but other members of my family were, and I’m at least glad that he wasn’t alone but in the company of his loved ones. When we got the news that Adam had passed in a horrible car accident we had, just weeks before, been back in Michigan on vacation and almost passed on the opportunity to visit with him and his family. I’m glad we ultimately made the decision that we would go visit them. As for me… my hematologist is quite certain that I’ll live at least as long as my late grandfather, and I’m holding her to it!

     As I finished writing that first paragraph, so I wouldn’t forget it come morning, I lay there in bed trying to quiet my mind and drift back off to sleep. I couldn’t help but think of the ways in which we face death, each in our own way as the stories of our lives are all our own. I finally decided there were basically three ways we meet death. We never see it coming, like Adam. We see it approaching as we grow into old age and our bodies start to fail, and we know the eventual end is near. Or, like me, we see it trying to come for us, the Grim Reaper stretching out a shadowy cloaked and bony hand reaching for us and we do what must needs be done, as is our nature. Turns out I was wrong, and here’s how…

     I sat down this afternoon to check some emails and scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook when I learned that just hours before Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. Enter the fourth way we meet death… For far too many of us life gets complicated, messy, dirty, incomprehensible and we can’t seem to find our way through it any longer. Far too many of those that can’t see a way out turn to suicide as a last resort. It was reported that Robin’s publicist said he had battled severe depression leading up to his death. I’ve been there, sort of. I dealt with depression for some time, both before and after my transplant, so I have some idea. You feel like you’re cut off from the world, like no one understands how you feel, like you’re broken and no one can fix you. Often these feelings are mixed with anger and those who deal with depression lash out and turn away those who try to help. Then there are those who suffer in silence, not wanting their family and friends to know there’s “something wrong with them”. What these people need, what I needed, was for someone to not give up when everyone gets turned away. We need to start a very open and honest discussion in this country about how we deal with and treat mental illness. It can no longer carry the stigma that it has, that those who deal with it must suffer alone, in silence. People need to know there’s help out there BEFORE it’s time to call the suicide prevention hotline. Frankly it should never get that far…

     As I sit here writing this I have a friend who is dealing with severe depression, who feels he’s at the end of his rope and honestly I can understand why. That worries me. He’s been in this dark place feeling very much alone for quite some time and several years ago I was beyond worried, I was scared that I was on the verge of losing my friend. That left me at a fork in the road when it came to our relationship, one in which a very real and serious decision needed to be made. I felt that I had to give him some information about suicide prevention, but in doing so that it might irreparably hurt our friendship. Should I talk to him about suicide prevention and risk losing my friend, or carry on like he was fine and just pray that he didn’t sink that low…? Well, I chose the former. I contacted another friend who lived in the same city, and asked him to dig up any and all information about local suicide prevention resources. Once I had that, I called my depressed friend and danced around the topic, unsure how to broach it without him hanging up. I casually touched on how he was feeling and then I asked him to write down something for me, a telephone number. I didn’t tell him at first what it was for, I just made him write it down and repeat it back to me, twice. I distinctly remember thinking that if he hung up on me after I told him what it was for, and even if he threw away the number and never spoke to me again, well at least I had done all I could do from a thousand miles away. I can tell you he wasn’t happy when I told him what the number was for, but I think I convinced him to at least keep the number for a while, just in case. That was over three years ago and despite my repeated attempts to get back in touch with him he kept ignoring me. It hurt, thinking that my actions might’ve ended our friendship but so long as I knew he was still alive and fighting the good fight then I’d done some kind of good. 

     I’m happy to say that he has once again opened the lines of communication, but sad to say that his situation has not improved, and in fact may have deteriorated. At least he is once again talking to me and letting me help in whatever way I can, and it pains me that I can’t do very much. But I will not EVER give up on him, nor will I give up on anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. Years ago, I had another friend who was in a really nasty car accident and was housebound after his release from the hospital. At the time I drove past his house on my way to and from work every day and most days I would stop in on my way home and talk to him. Everything seemed fine (doesn’t it always?) until one day I could see in his eyes that something was wrong. I can’t tell you what it was, perhaps a distant stare as though he was there but at the same time he was in a far off place. Maybe his eyes looked like he was on the verge of tears… Whatever it was, I knew immediately that something was wrong and when I pressed him for answers his eyes met mine and with an expressionless face he told me that he’d almost eaten a bullet earlier… When someone you care for says something like that there is a flood of emotions that engulfs you. Fear. Anger. Shock. (for the purposes of this I’m considering shock an emotion, not sure how else to describe it…) I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t QUALIFIED for this! There have been very few moments in my life where I have felt that the words I was about to chose would have very real and lasting consequences, this was one. I can’t recall what I said, but I do remember the two of us hugging and crying on each others shoulders for a very long time… 

     I hope in reading this that you, the reader, will gain some insight into the reality of this type of mental illness. I’m certainly no professional counselor, though I have talked to a number of them, and I am grateful for every minute spent with them. My genuine hope is that you will take something constructive away from this. That perhaps if you know someone who is depressed or even just feeling down, or if you know someone that you have not heard from in a while that’s been dealing with some “heavy” life issues, you might find cause to take time out of your busy schedule and reach out to them. You never know if that line you cast out to them may just be the lifeline they need. Be honest (I encourage this in ANY and ALL communication!) because you can’t BS your way through that conversation, they’ll see right through it. Be open, don’t hold something back because you might be afraid of losing a friend. The bone jarring, gut wrenching reality is that if you do hold back and they are gone tomorrow you’ll never forgive yourself, you’ll never get a second chance. If you don’t know someone who you think might be in a bad place mentally then just pick up the phone and call someone you have not spoken to in a long time and tell them that you miss them. Then the next time you have some time to kill do a little research on the warning signs of depression and suicide and let’s start an honest heartfelt conversation on how to help these folks. Whatever you do PLEASE take this seriously, because it is serious. DEADLY serious!!!

     If you’re in a dark place, know that someone out there really does care about you and that ending your life doesn’t solve your problems, it only transfers them to those who love you. Your life IS WORTH LIVING! Never forget that. You are NOT the first to experience what you’re going through, or to think the thoughts you’re thinking. Please, not for me but for yourself, reach out and talk to someone, anyone. 

     May you find a light in the dark, peace in the storm, and know that you ARE loved.

     Blessings, T.

To learn more I encourage you to watch the following video:
Visit these websites as well- 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day +1096 or rebirthday number three.

     What follows are two posts that I intended to post almost a month ago now. As you'll see things got... complicated. There's more news to share, all of it good, but given the discombobulated nature of this post I'll save that for later. I hope you can make sense of this, if not feel free to comment and ask away, I'll try to straighten things out for you. 

     Today I celebrated my three year "rebirthday", my father-in-law's birthday and my brother's birthday. I also found out that the artist who drew my visual focus pieces has a birthday today as well. All day I've been thinking about how the transplant was supposed to happen a day earlier but a storm along the east coast kept the plane that was carrying my donor cells grounded... 

     Throughout this journey there have been far too many coincidences for me to believe they've all been random, there has to be something very powerful at work orchestrating these events. But to what end, what purpose I know not. What I DO know is that whatever, whomever it is, it's working for my benefit. From the moment I let go of my control over the situation, that is to say my PERCEIVED control, everything started to fall into place and gradually the stage was set for what seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a complete healing from the deadly "terminal disease" that afflicted me.  I won't yet be so bold as to say I'm cured, but things are sure looking that way. 

     We're off for short trip to Santa Cruz to celebrate Connor's high school graduation, and to give me a brief respite from hectic mornings trying to get projects done outside before the sun comes around the back side of the house and the mercury rises. Oh, how the sun has now become my mortal enemy... We've moved the fence, or more accurately built a new fence, to allow us to double the size of our garden, built a few raised beds out front to accommodate edible landscaping (blueberry bushes and some raspberry patches) and built a couple of small chicken tractors to house the six brand spanking new chicks that will be added to our zoo after we return from Santa Cruz. A couple more raised beds to build, a new, prettier gate and some modifications to the chicken tractors (the downside to buying "kits", they're never exactly what you want). Then hopefully I can devote my days to finishing up the shop and start building some more projects and maybe making a bit of money for my efforts. 

Fiona and Magnus get acquainted.
     We've also recently expanded our "pack" to include a small mixed breed terrier/something? We've named her Fiona and she is a firecracker! I don't know that we've ever had a dog with such energy! 

     ...That was the update I'd hoped to post before we left for Santa Cruz, obviously it didn't go as planned. Shortly before the trip, I started feeling some very slight abdominal pain in my upper right abdomen which as the week progressed spread to a spot directly behind it on my back. It felt eerily like a bad case of gas I'd had just post transplant. Turns out, after suffering through a miserable couple of days in Santa Cruz (I admit, I was being stubborn and didn't want to ruin anyone's trip.) and an early morning dash up
the coast to the Palo Alto CA hospital I had developed a significant gall stone which lodged in the exit of the gall bladder. It had to go... I sent Sarah home with the kids to get some sleep, I knew I wasn't going to get much anyway, though a couple of shots of morphine proved me wrong, thankfully. I bumped some scheduled surgery early that morning when the surgeons came in and, because of my ongoing medical issues spent Friday night in the hospital. 
Sailboat in the bay near the lighthouse, Santa Cruz.

     Here's a few things I learned from the experience:
1- Always trust your gut, even when it's driving you mad with pain. 
2- I'd still go out of my way to drive to Palo Alto to get to the VA hospital. Despite all the bad press the VA has garnered of late they've always taken exceptional care of me, no matter who I see there (well, except for that one cranky lady in travel pay...). 
3- This one really surprised me... I went into the ER with no fear... Once the pain subsided thanks to the drugs I was very strangely at peace with whatever, or however this played out. Maybe I've been down this road enough times that I just don't feel afraid, or maybe I simply have enough faith in those professionals who work there to trust fully that they'll set things right. Whatever the reason this last, albeit brief, stay in the hospital was not scary or stressful for me in the slightest. I'm sure that those who knew (we put the word out via Facebook) and surely Sarah were extremely stressed and I wish I could've changed that. But from a patient's perspective it's very comforting to feel at ease in such situations. 

     To end this it's fast approaching two weeks, the temperatures here have already topped 100 during the day and work continues on the garden expansion. The boys, or perhaps more accurately "young men", have really stepped up and born the brunt of the heavy lifting, working together well, and that has made even the most difficult of tasks easier. I've tried really hard to teach them something my father taught me years ago which I now call "embrace the suck". In short, whenever an especially difficult task came up on the farm he always met it head-on and we'd work through it together cracking jokes and generally making even the worst jobs, ours was ALWAYS pickin' rocks, borderline enjoyable simply by creating an attitude that the sooner it was accomplished the sooner we could move on to more enjoyable things. 

     Tuesday was a great example of that as the boys and I worked to remove some cemented-in fence posts and break up a mowing strip/curb that was in the way of our new garden beds. It was VERY hot outside, but I made sure we were all well hydrated and took plenty of breaks. We, and by that I mean the young men of my family, worked diligently at our set tasks and got a lot accomplished. I couldn't be more proud of their efforts and how well they worked together. I don't want to sound like I'm tooting my own horn but they are becoming fine young men...

     So my healing continues along with weight restrictions. Man I hate those! I hear tell there'll be some necessary diet changes too now that the gall bladder has joined the spleen (which was removed in September 2010). Kinda not looking forward to giving up some of the foods I hear will not be fun to eat anymore but, truth be told, I've been meaning to take the steps toward healthier eating anyway. Now I have a certain incentive! Funny how that works eh?

     As you can see things have been anything but normal or routine around here. Hopefully things will calm down really soon, the list of projects that is keeping me from the shop seems to grow at an even pace with the tasks I check off and I'm beginning to miss my shop time... Stay well, stay happy and stay passionate!